It's been a week since I achieved certification as a supervisor in Clinical Pastoral Education. There's been a lot of joy and gratitude as this arduous educational process finally came to an end for me. But there is also an undercurrent of sadness. Only about 60% of the candidates who went up this time were approved along with me. These rejections are a personal trauma to the people who were turned down, but they are also a trauma for the project of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as a whole -- how can we expect the field to thrive if there is not a steady crop of new supervisors coming up to educate the chaplains and clergy of the future?
Can you imagine being willing to join a field where there's a 40% chance that you will be turned down after a 3-6 year educational process? Few would be willing to do that, which means that the proverbial "best and the brightest" are not very likely to choose our field, and that is a tragedy.
Now, granted, some proportion of that 40% will be approved on a second or third try. But does it really have to be this hard? Is it really worth discouraging people from joining or staying in this field?
I don't think so. We need to do what other fields -- including law, medicine and doctoral education -- have done over the last thirty or forty years. We need to remove much of the uncertainty from the educational and certification processes. Students need to know how long it will take them to finish. They need to be able to feel confident that they know what they need to do in order to finish. Neither of these things are true now.
The place to start is with the committee appearance process itself. A few years ago an association (ACPE) task group created a report that included some excellent recommendations for reform, most importantly that the committee a candidate appears before should be -- as it is in the Phd defense process -- made of people who have an ongoing relationship with the candidate and his or her work. But the ACPE leadership, unfortunately, rejected the most important recommendations.
Another reform I would recommend would be to make graduate education a component of the process. Supervisor candidates are expected to demonstrate substantial competency of theoretical knowledge from the fields of education and psychology. Yet, few supervisory education programs include graduate courses in those subjects. Having had very little previous formal education in these fields, I was forced to engage in a process of self-education with only minimal guidance. Now that I am in a Phd program (I started at NYU's program in Education and Jewish Studies in September), I can really see the difference that learning under the guidance of top-notch professors devoted to your success makes. I did a good job of educating myself to the level required for associate supervisor certification, but did it really have to be this hard? I don't think so, and I'm conscious that I had the advantage of being a life-long autodidact with a strong academic background. What about people who don't have those advantages? Shouldn't they have the opportunity to become supervisors, too?
My doctoral work is just at its beginning and I'm not sure exactly where my research is leading me. But I hope it helps me to make a contribution to the field of CPE in a way that will help it to raise both the quality and quantity of its supervisors. The field has so much to give. I hope to be able to help that tradition grow!